Limits to detecting epistasis in the fitness landscape of HIV

PLoS One. 2022 Jan 18;17(1):e0262314. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0262314. eCollection 2022.


The rapid evolution of HIV is constrained by interactions between mutations which affect viral fitness. In this work, we explore the role of epistasis in determining the mutational fitness landscape of HIV for multiple drug target proteins, including Protease, Reverse Transcriptase, and Integrase. Epistatic interactions between residues modulate the mutation patterns involved in drug resistance, with unambiguous signatures of epistasis best seen in the comparison of the Potts model predicted and experimental HIV sequence "prevalences" expressed as higher-order marginals (beyond triplets) of the sequence probability distribution. In contrast, experimental measures of fitness such as viral replicative capacities generally probe fitness effects of point mutations in a single background, providing weak evidence for epistasis in viral systems. The detectable effects of epistasis are obscured by higher evolutionary conservation at sites. While double mutant cycles in principle, provide one of the best ways to probe epistatic interactions experimentally without reference to a particular background, we show that the analysis is complicated by the small dynamic range of measurements. Overall, we show that global pairwise interaction Potts models are necessary for predicting the mutational landscape of viral proteins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Epistasis, Genetic*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genetic Fitness*
  • HIV Infections / genetics
  • HIV Infections / virology*
  • HIV Protease / genetics*
  • HIV-1 / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Mutation*
  • Viral Proteins / genetics*
  • Virus Replication


  • Viral Proteins
  • HIV Protease